The Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s Virtual Lecture Series continues next week with the Apothecaries to Pharmacies – Prescriptions, Potents, and Healthy Herbs.
Digitization coordinator Katelynn Best will be taking the audience on an intriguing investigation into the history of medicines.
Best received her BA in classical and Near Eastern archaeology from Wilfred Laurier University, and a certificate in museum and gallery studies from Georgian College. In October, 2021, she was hired to digitize and upload a portion of the museum’s vast collection of items, a project made possible by a generous grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
“Digitization is an absolute necessity,” said managing director and curator Sarah Kaufman. “But it’s also costly and time-consuming. Thanks to Trillium, we’re able to make this huge investment for the museum and the entire community.”
With such an extensive collection that includes large maps and giant posters, to tiny hand-written labels from tincture jars, the digitization of the museum’s collection is a major undertaking. To date, Best estimates only 17 per cent of the collection has been uploaded, but the goal is to increase that to at least 30 per cent. “It might be a lofty goal, but we are hopeful,” says Best. At the moment, she is the only person working on the project, but the museum is hoping to add to the staff as the year progresses.
She explains that with the Trillium grant the museum was able to purchase larger equipment, and now has different methods to handle more delicate items. “It is hard to put a crumbling piece of paper on a regular scanner,” she says. “These scanners handle everything from journals, ledgers and letters, to legal documents, maps and images, dating back 200 years and more,” said Best.
This project will help to preserve the collection as well as increase the museum’s online presence on their own website and on platforms such as Google Arts & Culture. Museums around the world are investing in their online programming, and the NOTL Museum’s collection of more than 50,000 artifacts is one of the most unique in Canada, attracting online visitors from all parts of the globe. “Digitization is key to helping us grow our online presence,” said Kaufman. “We receive at least 200 access requests per year, and it’s growing all the time.”
To decide what gets digitized, Best works from a priority list that includes items or collections that are most frequently requested for research, and items that are needed for upcoming exhibits. It was not a large list of items at the beginning, but it keeps on growing, she said. Best explains much of the museum’s collections is separated and organized into boxes, and each box of artifacts is a new adventure for her. It was a box of items from the Niagara Apothecary that inspired her upcoming lecture.
When she was tasked with digitizing an item from the box that was on the priority list, she found 16 different labels for medicine bottles, which intrigued her. She soon discovered many other medical treasures. The museum also has some bottles, tools and equipment from the Niagara Apothecary in their collection. The Niagara Apothecary on Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake operated from 1820 to 1964 and opened as a museum in 1971. Although she does not have a specific interest in medicine, these items sparked her curiosity about the apothecary, the products they sold, and the history of apothecaries as well as their connection to modern-day pharmacies. She also notes that the medical side of history is always well documented. “If you eat a mushroom and you die, someone will write a paper on it. If you eat a mushroom and it does something great, someone will write a paper on that too.”
Join Best as she presents her findings in her lecture into the history of the medicinal world of “prescriptions, potents and healthy herbs, Wednesday, March 2 at 11 a.m.
Registration is required at www.notlmuseum.ca. For more information contact Amy Klassen at 905-468-3912 or by email at